coryI have more than 20 books lined up for reviews for this blog, but tonight they’ll have to take a back seat to this one — Cory: An Intimate Portrait, edited by Margie Penson-Juico.

To my readers from outside the Philippines, you may (or may not) have heard of the recent passing of former Philippine president Corazon “Cory ” Aquino, the first female president in Asia and the icon of the famous People Power Revolution,  a peaceful movement that toppled a dictatorship in 1986.

I purposely bumped up this review to join a nation that is mourning for a beloved president, who has touched many lives in her journey from a plain housewife to the bereaved widow of the slain opposition leader (against dictator Ferdinand Marcos) Ninoy Aquino to the president of the country and the symbol for national democracy.

(On the other hand, and on a lighter note, I also bumped up this review because the featured book is actually my boss’ copy and I have to get my own :) )


The book

Cory: An Intimate Portrait (Anvil Publishing, February 2009) is a biography made up of anecdotes contributed by people who knew Cory in various capacities – her personal and presidential staff, her cabinet members, the Presidential Security Group, government officials, foreign affairs officials, the military, the religious, non-government organizations, the charity she founded (Bigay Puso Foundation), and personal friends – all compiled since Cory was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008.

Philip Ella Juico writes in his foreword:

“Cory: An Intimate Portrait is about Corazon Cojuanco-Aquino in various facets of her life: President Aquino on formal occasions, President Cory to those who prefer to be informal, at the same time wishing to show respect for both her and the office she held  and continues to represent; Auntie Cory to biological relatives and Tita Cory to those simply fond of, and deferential to, her; Lola Cory to her grandchildren; and simply Cory to old friends.”

I am not usually very fond of biographies (I hardly ever read them), but I could not pass up the chance to read this one, because it was the perfect book to read on the rainy night, while watching her memorial service on national television.

I liked the mix of recollections from various sectors of society, truly showing us different glimpses of the woman that was Cory Aquino.

I liked how the editor narrated how Cory chose to hold her office at the Premier Guest House rather than the Malacañang Palace (the official Presidential residence) because she considered herself and her people “guests who definitely did not intend to overstay their welcome.”

the Premier Guest House on Arlegui St.
the Premier Guest House on Arlegui St.

Presidential Security Group Commander Volts Gazmin candidly recalled how he found her calmly combing her hair in the bathroom during the coup attempt, a testimony against the reports that she had  been cowering under the bed.

Elfren Cruz (head, Presidential Management Group) revealed that she wrote her notes on sticky notes with the heading “Boss Lady.”

Former Customs Commissioner Badong Mison also revealed (gasp!) that had not President Aquino’s Executive Order 127 (making the BOC independent from the control and supervision of the Department of Finance) been invalidated, the Bureau of Customs would have been reformed.

Philippine Ambassador to Spain Johnny Rocha shared how his reluctance to become ambassador was quelled by Cory’s quiet reminder that she, too, did not want to be President, and Rocha accepted the post that made Spain the first to declare its support for the Aquino presidency.

Her longtime fashion designer Auggie Cordero revealed, “Her favorite food was Italian and Spanish, although Kapampangan dishes like paksiw na lechon was on the menu too.”

Several stories also told of the quiet impact she made on their lives with the simple act of gifting a rosary.

All of them, whether personal, political, or professional acquaintances, remember Cory Aquino fondly — and so does the rest of the Filipino nation, which, political ideologies aside, cannot deny that Cory Aquino loved her country up to her final days.

It was truly a fitting read on the eve of the final night of her wake, before she is finally laid to rest tomorrow.

Our Tita Cory

But I have my own story to tell, and my own goodbyes to say.

I grew up conscious of Cory Aquino because, living in Makati, I have passed that Ninoy statue countless of times, and my parents were careful to point out its significance. My school (St. Scholastica’s College, Manila) also counts her as one of its greatest alumna, and when I was in high school, I listened to her speech during another turning point in Philippine history — the second EDSA revolution. Little did I know that I would meet her personally a few years later, when I was a student leader in college.

In college at the Ateneo de Manila University, I was fortunate enough to be part of the student council, and subsequently, the Union of Catholic Student Councils (UCSC), where I served as an officer (a magistrate and the Chief Magistrate) for two years, where I met some of the friends I know I’ll keep for life.

The UCSC traditionally convenes its members — student leaders from different Catholic colleges and universities — twice a year, and one summer, the summer before senior year, I took on the task of organizing the 11th UCSC Congress.

I was frantic, because I was not an officer of our school’s student council anymore, but I had committed to organizing this five-day congress for the group. I knew how important the timing was for a congress– it was only a year before the 2005 elections — and it was imperative that we set the direction for our group.

When we couldn’t find  a venue, I approached the Aquino Center through Bam Aquino, who was then chair of the National Youth Commission. It proved to be fortuitous, as the Aquino Center welcomed us to their facilities with highly discounted rates for our Congress (and a very reasonable payment scheme).

And the best part about it: President Cory Aquino herself had accepted our invitation to become the keynote speaker for our event.

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UCSC delegates with Tita Cory, in front of a portrait of Ninoy

She came on the fourth day of our congress, and as we ushered her into the conference room in hushed reverence, she broke the silence by introducing herself as “Tita Cory” and distributing a bag of Japanese candies (from Aji Ichiban — she was well-prepared for a young audience!) for us to enjoy. She also personally toured us through the Aquino Museum — which showcases artifacts of her husband’s activism — including the actual bloodied shirt removed from his person that fateful day — as well as her own memorabilia as President.

Tita Cory with the UCSC officers (that's me in pink)

Tita Cory with the UCSC officers (that's me in pink)

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Tita Cory with the Ateneans

She asked us to share our dreams for the country, and we did — we were young then, and we were so convinced we would change our country and the world. I sadly admit that those dreams have been lying dormant in my consciousness for some time now — reality came crashing down  after we graduated from college and I have since then lost all my enthusiasm for activism.

Tonight I remember what she told us then: “Never stop dreaming for the country, and never stop working towards those dreams.”

And of course, she was right.

Thank you, Tita Cory, and tonight I start dreaming again. My dream, for tonight and for the future, is for all Filipinos  to remember what you stood for. May we honor your memory by fostering in our hearts that same  selfless love you had for our country, and may this finally bring about true and positive change for the Philippines.

***

My copy:  “borrowed” copy, for the time being

My rating: 4/5 stars

Book is P195 at National Bookstore.

Abroad? Book is roughly $4.94 from NBS Online.